Samir Doughty doesn’t remember exactly who it was, but recalls at some point, a Florida player actually telling him that his legs were tired. Bryce Brown recalled Florida’s point guard walking it slowly up the court, even when the Gators were working with momentum.
Auburn’s game plan was to make Florida tired — with both teams playing for a third time in three days — and believe the strategy worked in AU’s 65-62 SEC Tournament semifinal win.
“I felt like they were tired,” said AU forward Chuma Okeke. “They shortened up their bench to like seven players, but we still played all 10 of ours. While we’re running, they’re getting tired. But we’re not getting tired.”
Florida has dealt with some injuries this season, and as a result only really works with seven players. Auburn utilized 10 on Saturday. AU wanted to use this to their advantage, and so they pressed more and tried to work that numbers difference to their advantage.
The Gators shot really well, and even had a nine-point lead in the first half. But as the second half wore on, AU looked like the fresher team. They pulled ahead, and didn’t look back once taking the lead.
“I know they have to be tired,” Doughty said. “… We were preparing for them to be tired. Every team that we play, most likely, they’re going to be tired by the last five minutes of the game.”
The Gators turned the ball over 19 times to Auburn’s four. AU head coach Bruce Pearl believes the total had something to do with those UF legs, as their strategy might have been to be less aggressive after playing their third game in a span of 48 hours.
Florida didn’t directly address any fatigue in their brief postgame press conference, but it was evident on the eye test.
“I think they were tired,” said Jared Harper, who finished with 20 points. “They don’t play as many people as we do, which we knew going into the game, it was going to be an advantage for us. Just trying to push the tempo, trying to pressure, trying to run the floor. Trying to do everything we could do to expose their tiredness.”
Even in the game’s waning moments, after the Gators made a swift and valiant comeback, they decided to push the defense back, and allow Harper a chance at a dagger 3-pointer with 10 seconds left, instead of fouling.
After going up 38-32, AU went on a 15-6 run, capped by a Samir Doughty 3-pointer. Florida went more than seven minutes in the second half, a little later, without making a field goal. The two teams have played the same number of games, but it was Auburn that was the fresher as it sprinted into its first SEC title game since 2000.
“To start the game, Florida was running up and down the court with us a little more,” Brown said. “… They just didn’t have a sense of urgency in their offense. So that told me, ‘Hey man, they’re tired.’”